Manners from the Manor: Holiday Etiquette

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The holiday season can be a lot of fun starting with Thanksgiving dinner, followed by holiday parties and gifts to give and receive, but there are a number of situations that can arise where knowing the proper etiquette can come in handy. Myka Meyer, founder of Beaumont Etiquette and creator of The Plaza Finishing Program, is joining us today for the finale of our “Manners from the Manor” series to discuss holiday etiquette.

Below Myka is sharing her list of tips for holiday hosts and hostesses, as well as advice on how to be a gracious guest. Myka has also answered some of the most frequently asked questions she gets every holiday season on holiday gift giving and receiving. Welcome, Myka!

The Plaza New York, where Myka teaches etiquette classes


Holiday Etiquette by Myka Meier

(images via @mykameier)

Tips for a Gracious Host or Hostess:

When guests RSVP, ask them if they have any food allergies or dietary restrictions. Make sure there are plenty of dishes to accommodate anyone’s dietary needs.

For larger holiday dinner parties, it’s okay to set your place settings and table decor at least one day in advance of your party. By setting the table in advance, you can focus on food preparation on the day of the event.

Ensure that your table’s décor, including flowers and candles, do not block the view across the table and therefore make conversation between guests difficult.

Try to prepare as many dishes as you can ahead of your guest arrivals. This way you are able to entertain as they arrive and not rushing in and out of the kitchen to check on the meal. We suggest having some light hors d’oeuvres and drinks to serve when guests arrive, as they’ll be hungry when they arrive and it may take time to get all the food on the table.

If you have family or friends who can help out, delegate responsibilities to them. For example, have one person responsible for greeting guests, one for taking coats, and one for making sure all guests have a full drink in hand.

The host or hostess should always sit closest to the kitchen in order to be able to access it quickly should a guest need anything.

Be sure to turn off the TV during the meal and put on seasonal music instead. This will help everyone enjoy both the food and the company all the more.

Be over prepared. Thanksgiving tends to be an over indulgent holiday. Plan for plenty of food and drinks if possible, so that if someone wants a second helping you can graciously serve it to them.

If you wish to say a prayer or toast do so before you begin the meal, and make sure the host or hostess initiates it.

Speak to and engage all of your guests. A gracious host or hostess will make sure everyone at the table is happy, comfortable and feels welcome. If guests don’t know one another, be sure to introduce them before they are all seated at the table.

Clear the table before putting desserts on the table, and if possible set fresh silverware for the dessert.

If you think you’ll have leftovers after Thanksgiving dinner, a nice gesture is to have disposable boxes ready to send guests home with. Write on the front of a label what the content is and on the back of the label when it was prepared so guests know when it may spoil.

It is completely acceptable to have children seated at the adult table or at their own table. If you set a children’s table, make it an extension of the adult table so they feel included. Typically, if there are one or two children they should sit with the adults at the main table. If there are more than two children, having a children’s table is a nice way to let them have their own space. You can set arts and craft activities for them such as writing what they are thankful for or decorating their placemat.

Myka Meier with her daughter and husband, dressed in holiday finery

Tips for a Guest:

One should arrive at an event at someone’s home between the time listed on the invitation and 20 minutes after. Do not arrive early as the host or hostess is most likely putting last minute touches on various elements of the party. When you arrive, offer to help the host or hostess in any way you can.

If you have food allergies or dietary restrictions, do notify your host or hostess when you RSVP.

It’s likely your host or hostess has spent hours if not days preparing. Show respect, enthusiasm, and mirror their effort by dressing in the spirit of the holiday!

Before you take a seat at the dining table, ask if seats are assigned. There may be a seating chart that the host or hostess has organized.

If the host or hostess gives a toast, it’s a lovely idea to give a thank you toast. You can compliment the chef and thanking him or her for the amazing day. When you make a toast, be sure to stand and when your toast is over raise your glass to the table. This signals to the other guests that you are done and is a celebratory gesture to drink in honor of the person you are toasting.

Do not overstay your welcome. Plan to stay around 30-45 minutes after dessert and coffee are served. The host or hostess will be exhausted from cooking and entertaining and probably has quite a bit of cleaning and organizing to do after the meal. Always be sure to offer to help clear the table.

Thank-you letters are very important! Within two days of the day of the party, mail a handwritten thank-you letter thanking your host for the lovely day.

Are hostess gifts always required?

It is always appropriate to bring a gift to someone’s home. The host may tell you not to bring anything, but they won’t refuse your thoughtful gesture once you arrive at their home. A hostess gift can be a small item, such as a candle, home-baked goods or a set of decorative cocktail napkins.

Cocktail napkins from August Morgan

Do you have to give a gift to everyone at the office?

A nice gesture to the entire office would be to bring something everyone can enjoy, such as a basket of baked goods. If your office decides to give gifts in a Secret Santa or White Elephant format, which would ensure that everyone received a present, each person is responsible for purchasing one gift.

If you decide to give holiday gifts to a few people at the office make sure it’s done privately so you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

And make sure you send a handwritten thank-you note to anyone who gave you a gift.

How long do you have to send a thank-you note? / When is a thank-you note required?

A thank-you note for a gift should go out within a week of the day you received it. If you forget, however, always better late than never. To determine if you should send a handwritten thank-you note or an email, I recommend matching the formality of the gift you received to the form of thank you you send. For instance, if someone brings in baked goods for the office, then an email thank you is appropriate. However, if you are given a personalized gift, to reciprocate the thought of that gift, I would send a handwritten thank-you note.

What should you do when someone gives you a gift and you don’t have anything for them in return?

If this situation happens you should not draw attention to the fact that you don’t have a gift for them. Instead focus on showing the person who has gifted you a present gratitude. If you felt the need or desire to you can always send a gift to them at a later date.

Are you required to reciprocate if someone gives expensive or over the top gifts?

The thought is the most important part of gift giving. A beautiful photo in a frame or a handcrafted item by you can be great options that don’t cost a lot of money but are very thoughtful. The best type of gift is one that evokes positive emotion.

Should you give a gift to someone spending the holidays with you, even if you may not traditionally buy a gift for?

I would recommend giving a gift to someone who is staying with you over the holidays. Chances are they will have a present for you, but it’s also a thoughtful gesture during the festive season.

Is it ever okay to give a cash gift?

A gift card is a more tactful way to give a monetary gift. Find a retailer or experience, such as a restaurant or a spa that the person would use and appreciate to show that you put thought into shopping for them.

Is it ever okay to re-gift?

I would not recommend re-gifting because if it is ever discovered the person who gave you the gift may be offended and hurt. If you decide to re-gift an item because you know someone who would love it and perhaps you already have it, make sure the gift is in its original packaging and is not customized with your name, monogram or other personalized detail.

Holiday gift tags by Dixie Design

Here are a list of some gift giving etiquette mistakes you want to avoid:

Not presenting a gift in the right way. You always want to make sure a gift is nicely wrapped, placed in a gift bag with tissue or has a ribbon wrapped around it.

Not giving a gift with a card or gift tag.

Make sure to include a gift receipt if appropriate.

If you’re not sure what someone’s size is you should not give a gift that is size dependent.

Myka Meier

Such wonderful tips and reminders as we head into the holiday season. Thank you, Myka, for all of the expertise you have shared over the last six weeks.  In our increasingly fast-paced and hectic world, it is so important that we take the time to continually emphasize the importance of etiquette. With her effervescent personality and training under a former member of The Royal Household of Her Majesty the Queen, Myka is the perfect role model for modern manners.  To learn more about Myka’s etiquette classes and videos please visit Beaumont Etiquette, and follow @mykameier on Instagram for ongoing information and tips. If you missed any of Myka’s “Manners from the Manor” tips, a recap of our exclusive six-week series is below…

Introduction: Meet Myka Meier

Week 1: The Duchess Effect

Week 2: Dressing Etiquette

Week 3: Dining Etiquette

Week 4: Afternoon Tea

Week 5: Etiquette for Children

Week 6: Holiday Etiquette


  1. So many great reminders! Yes, yes, yes! to turning off the TV if you’re having company. I find it so insulting to be invited to dinner, only to have a TV blaring in the background. Unless the party is for something like watching the Superbowl, or the Academy Awards, where the focus is on a TV event, bother inviting people over if everyone has to compete with the TV for each others’ attention?

    And yes to staying the 30-45 minutes after the meal. The first time I hosted Thanksgiving I was so hurt when everyone literally ate, jumped up, and left because they had other places to go. Hours of shopping, planning, cooking, cleaning – and I got maybe 20 minutes of enjoyment with my guests before they all took off. So hurtful!


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